It was my first visit to the United Arab Emirates. I was training local students to be science communicators. Here are some of the wonderful students I worked with from Abu Dhabi University:
And here are the awesome girls from Paris Sorbonne University. The V sign isn’t offensive in Abu Dhabi, it means peace:
Power It Up
We were running ‘Power It Up‘, a workshop about electricity generation and nuclear power. We had a cloud chamber, one of the most expensive and wonderful pieces of equipment in the science festival. You don’t get much more magical than trails from cosmic particles. Obviously they’re not magic, they’re science but you know what I mean.
We had to reset 225 mouse traps with 225 ping-pong balls SEVERAL TIMES every day. It was well worth it though – no better (or safer way) to demonstrate a chain reaction. Apologies for the dinosaurs, they weren’t usually there.
The Edinburgh Connection
The Abu Dhabi Science Festival has been run by the Abu Dhabi Technology Development Committee in partnership with The Edinburgh International Science Festival for the last four years. It includes hundreds of events over three sites.
Initially it was hard work with twelve-hour days of set-up and training. Here we are testing the equipment:
As time went on it got easier for us as our students gained confidence – they were soon running the show. We worked more behind the scenes; making sure everyone got breaks, filling up hydrogen balloons and collecting dry ice. I loved encouraging our students. Seeing them grow in confidence as they presented larger chunks of the show was immensely satisfying. They were brilliant.
We got a couple of days off too. I went on a desert safari. Here’s me on a camel, despite my posture, it was quite slow:
Image Credit: Alex House
This is much faster ‘dune bashing’. It’s driving (or mostly sliding) down the dunes – very scary!
We also went kayaking in the Mangroves:
The mangroves are home to an amazing tree climbing crab. I’d been to a talk about this fascinating climate-change-reversing-super-creature a few years ago. I was so excited to see the real thing – I almost fell out of my kayak!:
I visited the beautiful grand central mosque too, it was interesting to find out more about the faith my students shared. We gave them prayer breaks during the day – religion seemed to run smoothly alongside science in Abu Dhabi.
And I fed a giraffe a carrot in Al Ain Zoo, one of our festival locations:
I loved the social side of the trip, far more than I expected. I’m a writer so I’m used to time alone – I must admit, I wasn’t sure how I’d find being with people all of the time. It’s quite daunting starting a new job with new people in a new country.
Within a day I’d met a professional acrobat, comedy script editor, park ranger and a community artist. That’s just a random sample of occupations but my point is, it was a great privilege to spend time with so many interesting, creative individuals. I shared my days off with lovely people, I was in a great workshop team, I even had a swimming buddy. I also managed to be on time every single day thanks to booking THREE daily wake up calls from the hotel. I don’t normally get up super early so I was paranoid I’d sleep through my alarm. It was nice to not feel super geeky either – you’re just normal if you like science when you’re with a group of science communicators.
I visited the bar in our hotel almost every night, some nights I just rocked up with a cup of tea but I was there. It was great to see people. One of my favourite nights was a sing-song – traditional Scottish music with a fiddle and guitar. I loved dancing with everyone at ladies nights too – dancing until 3am and not even noticing how late it was. This is one of these nights:
Image Credit: Sian Rae
Many of the people on the team were from Edinburgh so I’ve had the pleasure with meeting up with some of them back in the UK – long may that continue.
Change is Good
This is definitely the most relaxed I’ve felt in months – I think it must be a combination of sunshine, good company, job satisfaction and being off social media. I came back to Book Week Scotland, for me that was nine events in five days all over the country starting the day after I’d arrived off the plane. I’d expected the volume of performances and logistics of touring to stress me but the relaxed inner Abu-Dhabi feeling continued. The good news is, it’s still with me. It’s made me think – perhaps just checking my phone once a day might actually be a better way to live.
Image Credit: Sarah Bates